It's the same every time: Extend "thoughts and prayers" to the victims and their families, laud first responders, avoid saying anything with real policy heft.

America's post-mass shooting ritual is a joke.

That ceremony played out again Monday in the wake of yet another gunman breaking yet another record on the scale of deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The new record? As of 1 p.m. Monday, it's now 58 dead and more than 500 wounded, after Stephen Paddock opened fire on thousands of concert goers from an elevated hotel window, according to police.

Virginia Tech, 2007. Fort Hood, 2009. Sandy Hook, 2012. San Bernardino, 2015. Orlando, 2016. And now, Las Vegas, 2017. These are just a few of the hundreds of mass shooting in the past decade in the U.S., a country that's cornered the world market on rampaging "lone wolves." Each instance is unique in outcome, death toll and the motivation of the shooters.

The common thread, though, is the almost chant-like response from the political class.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos provided a fine example of just how hard politicians twist to avoid saying anything of substance after such a slaughter.

“Once again, Americans are waking up to learn of another mass shooting that has claimed the lives of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters -- this time at a concert in Las Vegas. I am deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life and will be praying for all of the victims and their families. While there is no single solution that will prevent all mass shootings, as Americans, we must come together and work to do what we can to prevent these kinds of tragedies.” 

Note the "no single solution" line. Correct? Yeah, probably. But why not offer a few possible solutions, since the phrase implies solutions do exist? Well, doing so would inexorably require mentioning gun control. For a Democrat like Bustos, whose primary mission is segregating herself from her party's coastal left, such a conversation is too politically perilous to risk it.

It's all thoughts and prayers and nothing of real value.

Bustos wasn't alone. Hers is merely an example of this ridiculous ceremony that solves exactly nothing. Official after official kicked out carefully worded statements saying precisely zilch. The president was notably reserved in his rendition of saying absolutely nothing. Paddock was a white man, a fact that, doubtlessly shaped President Donald Trump's approach. Other attacks, by people of a darker hue, have been met with immediate tirades about immigration crackdowns, whether they applied or not. 

Admittedly, the facts of Sunday night's massacre aren't fully known. Las Vegas police will spend weeks piecing together what made Paddock tick. They may never know, since Paddock took his own life before police got to him.

So, at some level, there's a reasonable excuse to not spout off. But that doesn't justify an unwillingness to even broach the known, certifiable facts.

Paddock used an easily accessible, high-powered, fast-firing rifle to mow down 600 people. In that way, his is the kind of attack that happens in the U.S. with alarming frequency and is almost non-existent in other developed nations. There's something unique plaguing the U.S.

These are tough, complex issues. But tackling such problems is the precise responsibility hefted on those who seek out high-level elected office. Any legitimate solution probably requires a bit of what both Republicans and Democrats want. A combination of limits on assault-weapon style rifles combined with bolstered mental health and security programs would be a starting point for debate in a world where earnest people grapple with complicated political questions. 

That's not America, right now, though, where officials are terrified of tiny special interests with massive wallets. 

Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at


Editorial Page Editor

Editorial Page Editor, Quad-City Times